There were plenty of television cameras and media attention given to the Bearcat basketball program prior to Wednesday's practice, but Bearcat Insider focused on Coach Cronin and his starting point guard, Jamual Warren.
After suffering a hand injury earlier in the season that caused him to miss six games, Warren was asked if he is now completely healthy. "My thigh is hurt from a knee in my thigh, but other than that, I'm good."
Since Warren's return to the line-up, the Bearcats have played much better. Jamual was asked what qualities he brings to the squad. "Some leadership that maybe we needed combined with the leadership that we already had from John, Marv and Sikes. I think I bring a little different leadership that might help us to play a little better."
Coach Cronin went out of his way in Tuesday's post game interview to praise the job of his point guard's rebounding. Jamual had eight defensive rebounds on the afternoon. Jamual commented about his board work, "Coach Goggin emphasized that I had to rebound for us to win. He said if I had seven rebounds then we'd have a shot to win. I just tried to rebound more and get the ball in my hands before anyone else could get it."
Although Warren is better known for his defense averaging only 6.1 points per game and shooting only 37% from the floor, he also hit a big three point shot in the game. Jamual realizes his primary job is to run the offense and help his teammates score. "I had one three, but I wasn't looking for shots," said Warren. "I was trying to work on getting everybody else the ball and getting Deonta some shots."
The Springfield, Massachusetts native was pleased with his performance on New Year's Day because the Bearcats won the game, but it was apparent he doesn't like to make any mistakes with the basketball. "I turned the ball over a couple times, but I was happy just to get the win. I could have done some things better in some areas, but it was a good win." Warren also had seven assists.
After opening the season with two losses to the likes of Belmont and Bowling Green in the Peggy Cronin Classic, this team could have shut down, but Warren says the squad never stopped listening to its coaches. "Everybody bought in after we lost a couple games, and I was still out. We just started to learn how to win. That was the thing. We could fight. We just needed to learn how to win."
After emotional wins against two rivals (Miami of Ohio and Louisville), Jamual was asked if he is worried about the team having an emotional letdown against St. John's on Saturday. He responded, "No. We're going to try to continue to do the things we've been doing. We want to keep fighting, keep working hard in practice, keep our energy and keep trying to get everything better."
At this point, we shifted our attention to the Bearcats' head coach.
Coach Cronin was asked if getting good contributions from several of his freshmen over the last few weeks has reinforced the evaluation process he and his staff have used in recruiting. "One thing you can't ever do is lose faith in your ability to evaluate players and recruit. One thing I've learned over time is that everybody is not a great player from their first day. Look at Kenyon Martin versus Danny Fortson. Kenyon wasn't Danny. Danny could score from day one. Kenyon needed time and development, and most guys are guys like Kenyon Martin. You hope they end up half as good as him. Most guys are like the Leonard Stokes and Steve Logans of the world that get better over time. We have to stay with ‘em and keep working hard with ‘em."
One of the comments Coach Cronin has made in the last few weeks is that he is learning how to coach his players. Mick was asked what he's learned and originally had some fun with the question. "Sometimes I need to get shock therapy legalized for Rashad Bishop. Rashad and I are totally different personalities. I'm obviously a fiery Irishmen from the west side, and he's the most easy going guy I've met in my life so we're a good balance for each other. I tried to get him fired up before the Louisville game, and he looked at me like he had seen a ghost. It was the funniest thing I've ever seen in the locker room. I went and told the coaches that I scared the skin off Rashad." Mick continued, "We have to learn their personalities as well as their strengths in order to tailor our offense to the strengths of our players. That's the important thing."
Jamual may not be worried about the team having an emotional letdown this Saturday against St. John's, but Coach Cronin is. "Oh yeah. We don't know how to handle success and the attention that comes with it because we haven't had a ton of it around here, but I've been telling the guys that our day is going to come if we just keep listening, playing hard, and trying to get better. The talent is there. Your day will come as an individual, and our day will come as a team. I've told them the media will be back, but we have to realize that it doesn't mean anything. All that matters is what we do in the gym when they are all gone. Most people wrote us off for dead."
After Tuesday's upset of Louisville, Coach Cronin and Coach Pitino gave a quick handshake, and Cronin was off to the locker room as if it were just another win. He explained why that looked to be the case. "I was raised to act like you did it before so for me it was a great win, but I try to preach to our players to act like you expect to win because we did go in there expecting to win."
The Bearcats will be expecting to even their record at 7-7 when then go to Queens, New York on Saturday, January 5 for a 6 o'clock game with St. John's. The game will be televised on ESPN Classic.
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